The importance of self-compassion is essential and warrants and an episode of our mental health podcast. Jackie describes three components to self-compassion and the common barriers we face in developing this particular kind of love for ourselves.
This is the Thanks For Sharing Podcast. The podcast where we explore all things, recovery, healing and relationship. Remember to subscribe and download episodes in the iTunes Store, Google Play or on the Podbean app. And while you’re there, I’d love a review.
Hey everyone, welcome to Thanks For Sharing. I’m your host Jackie Pack.
Today’s episode, we’re going to be talking about self-compassion. So a couple of weeks ago we were talking in our men’s group, this was the topic that we were going to be discussing in the men’s group. And we started out, Adam who works at my office and I are running the men’s group. And so we were starting out playing a clip, a YouTube clip, which was actually a Saturday Night Live clip from back in the eighties, probably late eighties, early nineties with Stuart Smalley and Michael Jordan talking about affirmations. And it was great. At that time it was right before, Shall We Dance was wrapping up, talking about basketball. And so the guys have been talking about watching, Shall We Dance and how much they’re enjoying it and so it fit right in. And it was… This great little clip with Stuart Smalley and Michael Jordan talking about affirmations. If you haven’t seen it or it’s been a while since you’ve watched it, it’s worth a Google search to find that and watch it.
And after we watched the clip, one of the things I said, right, is Stuart Smalley has been making therapist’s jobs harder since the late eighties. And everybody kind of laughed. But in some ways it is true, right? If you grew up watching Saturday Night Live and your Gen X or if you’re a fan of SNL and you’re not Gen X but you’ve watched old clips, you’re probably familiar with Stuart Smalley and his Daily Affirmations.
And most people, it kind of leaves a little bit, they laugh, it’s funny, get a few chuckles out of it, but you don’t walk away thinking, “I want to do affirmations.” So we had to talk a little bit about even that word affirmation, what comes up for you? Like what starts to get going in the background of your mind that gets in the way of actually having positive affirmations for yourself. I was talking with a client later that week and I asked her like, “What are some loving, self affirmations that you have?” And she said, “That phrase, loving, self affirmations wants to make me barf.” And I was like, “Okay, thanks for being honest.” You have to work through some of those initial barriers. Whether they’re barriers from something outside of us, like this SNL clip or from Stuart Smalley on SNL or whether it’s coming from something internal within us in order to open ourselves up and to make affirmations work for us. Because we all deserve to affirm ourselves.
After we watched the SNL clip in the men’s group, I asked this question, “What is the bravest thing you’ve ever said to someone?” Now I’ve asked this in other groups and I’ve asked other people. I’ve had some times just this conversation with friends to see what comes up. I know for me, right now currently, I mean, it’s not something I’ve done currently, but it’s probably recently like within the last five, six years, I feel like I said something that was the bravest thing for me to say to somebody else.
So some of the things that I hear different clients say, that some of the bravest things that they’ve said aloud to somebody includes, “Will you marry me?” It includes, “I need help.” It includes, “I was sexually abused.” It includes, “Telling my parents, I need to set boundaries with them. And I won’t be in contact as much with them anymore.” For some of the people I’ve worked with, it’s include going to therapy and starting to open up in that therapy process and say things for the first time out loud to a therapist. Saying goodbye is one of the bravest things people have said. Asking to be seen, asking to be heard or asking for connection.
Now, as we talk about some of these brave things that we say to someone else and if you thought for a minute, maybe what’s the bravest thing that you’ve ever said to someone. Sometimes we start thinking about, “Well, what were the circumstances that allowed me to say this?” Usually there’s a whole lot that goes on that’s never actually verbalized to another person. And we just keep our mouth shut and we keep our head down and we look forward and we keep going. And we never actually say what we feel or we never actually reveal who we are. Often I think the circumstances that allow us to be brave and to speak up and to say what we’re feeling or what we believe to be true, there has to be some confidence within ourselves in order to speak that. We have to have some self-compassion, right. We have to feel some compassion for what we are feeling. I think a lot of times it’s helpful if we have support, right? Whether that’s a therapist or a friend or a partner. Somebody who is supporting us, knowing what the thing is that we have to speak.
And then it also requires just some courage. Sometimes when I talk about this with clients and we start to explore like, “What allowed you to be brave? What allowed you to step into this space and speak your truth?” Some of the things that they will say, right? Well, like when they’re looking at like, “What’s my motivation? Where am I coming from?” Right. Oftentimes what’s behind their come from or their motivation is this need to be known, is this need to be seen, it’s a need to be honest. And it’s a need for intimacy and it’s a need for connection.
Compassion for ourselves means that we honor and we accept our humanness. Things will not always go the way we want them to. We will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, mistakes will be made, we’re going to bump up against our limitations and we’re going to fall short of our ideals and our goals. This is the human condition. And it’s a reality shared by all of us. When talking about self-compassion, Dr. Kristin Neff says there are three components to self-compassion. The first one is self-kindness. The second component is the common humanity. And the third component is mindfulness.
Now sometimes our ability for self compassion is impacted by our ability to have compassion for others. Right? Sometimes I work with clients who have far more compassion for other people in their lives than they do for themselves. Sometimes though, I work with clients who are so caught up in the day in day out of their life and just the struggles and challenges where they are presently, they don’t even have really a concept of what’s going on outside of them. And so they don’t have compassion for themselves and they don’t have compassion for other people and it’s kind of that, like they’re lost in the forest, because they’re just in the thick of it. And then sometimes I have clients who don’t necessarily have any compassion for themselves and it makes them quite harsh and critical of others as well, because that’s the voice, right? They are harsh and critical of themselves and they extend that to other people. So our ability for self-compassion will impact our ability to move into relationship and an ability to connect and have compassion and empathy for others as well.
So let’s talk about that first concept of self kindness that Dr. Neff talked about. She says self compassion entails being warm and understanding towards ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate. Rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self criticism. Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable. So they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences. Rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals. People can’t always be or get exactly what they want. And when this reality is denied or fought against, suffering increases in the form of stress, frustration and self criticism. When this reality is accepted with sympathy and empathy and kindness, there’s actually greater emotional equanimity that is experienced.
Brene Brown in her book, Dare To Lead. She says, Unfortunately, self-trust is one of the first casualties when we fail or experience disappointment or setbacks. Whether it’s conscious or not, when we’re wondering how we ended up face down in the arena, we often reach for the blanket statement, “I don’t trust myself anymore.” We assume that we must have made a bad decision and therefore it’s a fallacy to count on ourselves to deliver. When we don’t have trust for ourselves, how do we get up? How do we do it again? How do we put our foot forward and step into the arena another time? That can be really difficult if we’re not having compassion and understanding for ourselves. And having some resilience talk that goes on internally, right? Sometimes it is just like, “You know what? You tried hard. You didn’t have control over that final outcome, but you put your all into this.”
We have to have certain statements or affirmations that help us hold ourselves when things don’t go the way that we had planned or when we recognize a mistake that we made or an imperfection that we have and that can help us from spiraling into a shame cycle and undoing any trust that we placed with ourselves.
Now another thing as we talk about self compassion, it is really helpful in the relationships that we have. We’re going to find more connection, the people that we’re in relationship with are going to feel more at ease being vulnerable and opening up and sharing when we are compassionate and empathetic with them. However, one of the first relationships that we practice is the one that we have with ourselves. And it makes it very difficult if we cannot be compassionate and empathetic and resilient in the way that we talk to ourselves to do that with another person. Brene Brown also in Daring Greatly says, “When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable. We squander our precious time and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make. Perfect and bulletproof seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.”
Oftentimes when I’m working with clients, I will tell them like, “You’ve also got to get to a good enough.” Right? And I find that there is a paradox when we’re talking about, “I am good enough and I am worth loving and belonging and there’s room for growth. And I want to evolve myself as a human being.” I think that ability to grow and to evolve ourselves happens much more readily however, when we are coming from a place of, “I deserve this, I am worthy of this.” One more quote from Brene Brown, this is from her book, Rising Strong. She says, “I’m a firm believer that complaining is okay as long as we piss and moan with a little perspective. Hurt is hurt and every time we honor our own struggle and the struggles of others by responding with empathy and compassion, the healing that results affects all of us.”
I love that. I was talking with a client, well we’ve been talking in several sessions just about her childhood and trauma and unpacking it and looking at the ways that her childhood trauma is showing up in her present life. And that’s a difficult thing for her to see. I think it’s a difficult thing for most of us to see when that truth is starting to bubble up and it wants to reveal itself. And I noticed in a lot of our sessions, as she talks about her trauma, she dismisses it and will say, “People have it so much worse than I did. Or people have it so much worse than I do right now.” And after observing this in several sessions back to back, I said to her like, “Are you okay if I share an observation from our sessions with you?” And she consented and so I shared this observation that I had, and I said, “I’ve observed that as we talk about some of the difficulties of your childhood, you often follow it up with other people had it worse than me.”
And she kind of smiled and I said, “What is that about for you? And where is that coming from for you?” And she said, “Well, other people did have it worse than me. Like I know some of those people. I’ve met some of those people. Since I’ve been an adult, I know that people had it worse than me.” And I said, “That’s true. Oftentimes we can find people who had it worse than us, maybe not every time, but sometimes we can find people who had it worse than us.” I said, “I mean, we can also find people who had it much better than us.”
And you know, and she agreed, “Yes, that’s true.” And she said, “But I don’t want to exaggerate what happened to me.” And I said, “Well, I haven’t gotten the impression that you’re exaggerating.” And she said, “How do you compare traumas?” And I said, “Well, the thing about trauma really is that you can’t compare it.” And I said, “If you have that question of like, which is the biggest trauma of them all?” I said, “I think the answer to that is your trauma.” Whatever our trauma is, that’s the biggest trauma to us.” I don’t know that we can compare traumas or that we can say this person had it worse than I did. I think we have to just sit in the truth of, “What happened to me was traumatic. What happened to me shouldn’t have happened or what happened to me should have happened, right? Like I should have had parents who came in and talked to me about my emotions and told me that I was a good kid and hugged me and told me that they were proud of me. Like those things should have happened.”
So again, I think going back to Brene Brown’s quote, “Hurt is hurt.” And when we try to fix it or we try to fade it or we try to bypass it, we continue to injure ourselves.
The second component of self compassion that Dr. Kristin Neff talked about was this idea of our common humanity versus our isolation. We’ve known for some time that psychologically, people do better depending on what your definition of better is. But I would say as a mental health expert, from my opinion, people do better when there is the shared common humanity, right? When we recognize that my mistake or my embarrassment or my shame gains me membership into the human race, right? I’m one of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people who have felt what I felt. It may feel unique to me and at the same time there is a common humanity and a common emotion to that.
Dr. Neff says frustration at not having things exactly as we want is often accompanied by an irrational, but pervasive sense of isolation as if I were the only person suffering or making mistakes. All humans suffer however. The very definition of being human means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect. Therefore self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience. Something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to me alone or it happens to me the worst. So this brings that question, right? That Brene Brown asks so well. “What do we think makes us unworthy of belonging?”
So in this men’s group, a couple of weeks ago, I asked that question. I asked that like, “What makes you unworthy of belonging?” Now this is kind of an advancements group and so the level of work that they’re doing is a little bit more abstract, I would say. And they’ve done, most of them have done groups before they’ve done therapy. They kind of earn their way into this men’s group. And so it was a sign of the work that they had done. When many of them said, “I don’t think I am worthy of belonging.” And that’s the right answer, right? We are not unworthy of belonging. In fact, Dr. Neff says that the very definition of being human means that we’re mortal, we’re vulnerable and we are imperfect. And yet there are all times like, even if for the most part, right? Like maybe 90% of the time, I believe that I am worthy of belonging. There still may be an experience that I have that for a day, for a week, for an hour, I struggle with feeling unworthy.
Sometimes I’ll say to my husband, like if somebody sends me a text or even worse, right? Like in our day and age, who just calls on the phone and like, I mean, for work, they do. Right? Different stuff like that they do. But like, sometimes I’m like, “Whoa, why didn’t you… First send a text and give me a heads up before you did something, one step bigger, like a phone call.” But you know, there’ve been times, sometimes I get a text or sometimes it’s a phone call and they leave a voicemail and they say, “Hey, Jackie, we need to talk.” Now that is something that gets me going almost every time. And I start like, “Oh no, what have I done?” Because I go to this place of like, “I’m in trouble.”
So one time this had happened and I said to my husband, “Why I do, I feel like any time somebody says something like this.” Like, “Hey, Jackie, give me a call. I want to talk to you.” Why do I feel like I’m being summoned to the principal’s office?” And my husband said to me, “Well, probably because you did get summoned to the principal’s office.” Like you’ve had that experience so it makes sense that it shows up later in life. And he was kind of like, “I’ve never been called to a principal’s office so for me, that thought doesn’t come up.” Which is true. I have been called to the principal’s office, but never after eighth grade, I will say.
And here’s the truth, right? Like I often say to clients, and I do believe this for myself. And it is a way of affirming myself and getting myself out of whatever pickle I might’ve found myself in, which fortunately is not very often I find. The more that I do my work, the more that I practice what I preach, I tend to stick my foot in my mouth much less often. But one of the things that I will say to myself is, “Adults don’t get in trouble.” I might make a mistake. I might’ve said something and not thought about the impact on somebody. I might have done something and again, neglected to think through how that would feel to them. Yeah, but I don’t get in trouble in the term, “Nobody’s going to come ground me from my car.” Right. “Nobody’s going to ground me from hanging out with my friends. Nobody’s going to take away something from me.” Right. Like I think being in trouble is a childhood experience where somebody has control or somebody has authority over us.
Now, like I said, as an adult, I might make a mistake. I might do something that I wish I wouldn’t have. But as an adult, I also have resources. And one of those is myself. Right? I can think it through later and I can go back and I can say, “Hey, I need to circle back with you. Because I realized something that I said probably was offensive to you, or probably was not really sensitive to what you’re currently experiencing. And I apologize for that.” I can undo the mistakes that I make.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t make mistakes. It doesn’t mean that I’m trying to be perfect. Or I have an expectation of perfection for myself, but it’s just one of those things that say, “Hey, as an adult…” Which reminds me, it kind of calls me out of elementary school or out of those junior high years that come up. When I feel like I’ve been summoned to the principal’s office, it kind of calls me back to my current age, calls me back to my adulthood, calls me back to the work that I’ve done and says, “Hey, adults, don’t get in trouble. We can figure this out. What happened? Where did this go off key? What are you feeling in your body that is saying something’s off? And then how can we circle back and correct that? How could we go back and make amends?
Now, the other thing about belonging is we have to allow ourselves to belong. For some people that fear of intimacy that we talked about in one of the previous podcasts can keep us from actually belonging, right? And allowing ourselves to be a part of and to belong to. Brene Brown says, “Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be accepted. Belonging on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are.” That’s out of her book, The Gifts Of Imperfection. In fact, she says, “Fitting in is the greatest barrier to belonging.”
Now, maybe you think, “Okay, that’s just semantics, fitting in, belonging. They can be used interchangeably.” And sometimes, honestly, maybe they can’t be. But I think she’s making a point here, right? I think she’s using semantics to say, “Hey, there could be a difference.” And whatever word you want to use, if it’s not fitting in, right, that allows us to change how we dress or how we talk or how we do our hair or how we walk. Right? All of these things that we might do in order to fit in with the group, whatever that group is that we’re trying to fit in with, may actually be a barrier to me being myself and to me, belonging to myself.
Brene Brown, put it best when she said, “You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and you hustle for your worthiness.” She says, “Grace will take you places hustling can’t.” Do we have grace for ourselves? Do we allow ourselves the wiggle room to be imperfect and to make mistakes and to fall?
In her book, Braving The Wilderness, she says, “Even in the context of suffering, poverty, violence and human rights violations. Not belonging in our families is still one of the most dangerous hurts. That’s because it has the power to break our heart and our spirit and our sense of self worth.” She says, “It broke all three for me and when those things break, there are only three outcomes, something I’ve borne witness to in my life and in my work. One, you live in constant pain and seek relief by numbing it or inflicting it on others. Number two, you deny your pain and your denial ensures that you will pass it on to those around you and down to your children. Or number three, you find the courage to own the pain and develop a level of empathy and compassion for yourself and others that allows you to spot hurt in the world in a unique way. I certainly tried the first two. Only through sheer grace did I make my way to the third?”
One of the things I love about Brene Brown is her directness, right? And her way to just speak the truth and to just lay it bare. I love that, when she just says, “There’s three options, you have. You try to numb it, try to fade it and then you’ll inflict it on others. You deny it and then for sure, you’re going to pass that down, right? Because what we don’t acknowledge keeps happening. Or we find the courage to own it and develop empathy and compassion and that makes us human and that makes us a good human in this world of suffering.”
The third concept is mindfulness versus over-identification. Dr. Neff says self-compassion also requires taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions, so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. This equal liberated stance stems from the process of relating personal experiences to those of others who are also suffering, thus putting our own situation into a larger perspective. It also stems from the willingness to observe our negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity so that they are held in mindful awareness. Mindfulness is non-judgmental, it’s a receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are without trying to suppress or deny them. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. Mindfulness requires that we not be over identified with thoughts and feelings so that we’re caught up and swept away by negative reactivity and that we don’t deny our feelings.
I think a lot of things in life come to this place of finding balance that we’re not living in one extreme or the other, and that we’re finding balance and that we’re constantly trying to stay in balance. It’s not like we find balance and we check the box and we’re done and we move on. Being balanced is an ongoing thing. So how do things change when we approach from a place of wholeness and from a place of worthiness? Brene Brown says, “We can’t ask people to give us something that we do not believe we’re worthy of receiving. And you will know you’re worthy of receiving it when you trust yourself above everyone else.” Again, we’re not looking for perfection, we’re looking for just worthiness for good enough. I think being human and being an authentic human is this daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are, the good, bad and otherwise.
Choosing authenticity, Brene Brown says means cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle and nurturing the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we believe that we are enough. She also talks about this idea of giving with strings attached. If we are not coming from a place of worthy, then it’s difficult for us to give to somebody else without some strings attached and it’s difficult for us to receive without some strings attached. And oftentimes if we judge ourselves because somebody gives to us, right, if somebody’s giving something to me means that I’m less than or means that I’m weak then when I give to another, that same string is attached, right? Because it goes both ways. And often when I talk to clients or to different people, they’ll say, “Oh no, no. It’s so much easier for me to give than receive.”
And actually Brene Brown says in her research, that doesn’t bear out, that statement doesn’t actually hold up to research. And that often times when we are living in this place of strings attached and judgments attached to certain things, it doesn’t just happen one way, it happens both ways. And we may be in denial of that string that’s being attached when we give, but it’s there.
So how do we live with our whole hearts and engage with the world from that place of worthiness? Well, we have to talk about what gets in the way of that. And I’ve spent a couple of the past episodes, have just kind of brought up childhood trauma. That’s kind of what I’ve been talking about in various angles and in various perspectives. I think one of the reasons why the podcasts have gone in that direction is that as I’ve moved everything to Telehealth and I’m doing sessions online and clients are observing staying home and staying safe, I think it just triggers some of those childhood feelings. It triggers a sense of uncertainty, it triggers a feeling of not knowing, it triggers a feeling of helplessness, of powerlessness, and it can trigger a feeling of being trapped.
Now most of those feelings are also things that children who experienced childhood trauma felt in their body. They may not have known those words, they may not have been able to label what that was, but it’s there in their body. So as we’ve gone into this, stay safe, stay home, depending on where you are or into a quarantine and this uncertainty and this unknowing as this global pandemic has been happening and playing out in all of our lives for nine weeks, I think for a lot of people, they feel disconnected. They feel isolated. And then all of those feelings from childhood trauma come up.
So I find that with a lot of my clients, the move to Telehealth, hasn’t actually impeded or interrupted the work that we were doing prior to COVID-19 appearing on the world stage. And I find for many of them, and I’m so proud of clients and therapists who are doing this work in difficult times. Because it actually deepened the work, because those feelings are now present. And we are aware that they’re present and that can just open us right back up to other times when those feelings were present. So I think that fear, I think vulnerability, I think shame, I’ve talked before about shame and various podcasts, carried shame which is toxic, inherited shame, which is also toxic. Those things get in the way of us coming from a place of worthiness. Those things get in the way of us loving and living from our whole hearts.
Brene Brown said wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, “No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.” It’s going to bed at night thinking, “Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid. But that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”
I hope as we are still in these uncertain times, not knowing exactly what lies ahead, not knowing when ahead is, if we’re going to have a new normal, if we’re going back to the old normal, what timeline that looks like, during this time of vulnerability, I hope that you can come from a place of worthiness, a place of being worthy of love and belonging and compassion and connection. And that you can start to come up with a few affirmations for yourself. Of I am, I am what, I am worthy of love and belonging. How do I belong? Different affirmations. One of the things that I find is the more personal the affirmations are and maybe the more they come right from our story, the more powerful and the more we remember them.
Now I’m not saying that quotes aren’t good. I’ve used a lot of quotes in this podcast, probably more quotes than I use in most podcasts. So quotes can be great and quotes can be a way of people saying things in a way that’s been thought out and rewritten and overwritten and scratched out and rewritten. Quotes are great but affirmations come from our life and from our experience and it’s what moves us forward. So I hope as we continue into the summer months still with uncertainty looming that we can develop some compassion for our vulnerability, that we can develop some affirmations from our own life story.
At the end of this episode, I want to remind you that your story matters. Remember there’s something meaningful in every chapter. Don’t wait to share your story until it’s finished. Until next time, Jackie.
The legal stuff. This podcast is solely for the purpose of information and entertainment and does not constitute therapy, nor should it replace competent professional help.
The prayer of the perfectionist. Nobody has time for perfection. We are pursuing progress. Help me to remember the only step I need to focus on is the next right step for me. Help me to remember that life is a journey. Help me to be able to separate all that I am learning from all that I have to do. Help me to remember that I’m not alone, I can ask for help. Help me to strive for frequent awakenings, not mastery. I am enough. Amen.